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Alfonso Troisi

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date: 27 July 2021

For a long time, biological studies of communication have been based on the postulate that communication has evolved to ensure the transmission of veridical information between conspecifics. Ethological studies of a variety of animal species have demonstrated that transmission of false information is a relevant component of intraspecific signals and that the adaptive benefit of deceiving others was a driving force in the evolution of communication. In primate species, evolving a larger neocortex was a viable evolutionary strategy to respond to environmental challenges that demand enhanced capacities of social manipulation. Among all animal species, humans are the masters of social deception. This chapter focuses on the cognitive abilities related to voluntary deception in humans, with special regard to the role of theory of mind (i.e. the capacity to infer the mental states of other individuals). Different aspects of theory of mind are discussed, including the evolution of social brain, the distinction between mentalizing and empathizing, and the abnormalities of social cognition in clinical syndromes such as autistic spectrum disorders and primary psychopathy.

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